Red Dawn Directed by: Dan Bradley Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan Running Time: 1 hr 54 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: November 21, 2012
PLOT: A young group (Hemsworth, Peck, Palicki, Hutcherson) become guerrilla soldiers in a homeland war against North Koreans.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of campy action movies, and most definitely, admirers of the first Red Dawn.
Buried in a war chest of action film history like one of its best secrets (at least to me, as I wasn't 14 in 1984), the original Red Dawn is a mind-blowing movie miracle that fuses boyhood fantasy of fighting bad guys in the familiar environment of my backyard with the seriousness of a war movie. It is a B-movie on an A-level budget that dares to take camp with a serious face, and give the concept real urgency (I still mourn the loss of a scene in which a McDonald's is invaded). On top of that, the 1984 movie has many emotional moments in which its contained testosterone overheats in a delirious way, leaving Harry Dean Stanton forever immortalized as a man standing behind a chained fence saying, "Remember when you used to go in the park and play... and I used to put you on the swings... and both of you were... so damn little?" And finally signing off with, "Avenge me, boys! AVENGE ME!"
That I first witnessed the movie in an American history class in high school doesn't feel like bad teaching — it instead feels perfect. In its highest intellectual quality, it was a gripping representation of Soviet nightmares in young mid-80s America, and in its lowest intellectual quality, it was a movie that excited my teacher about his memories of growing up, and still thrilled him to share it with a new generation. For him, the war cry of "Wolverines!" was a cheesy mantra that his nostalgia took very seriously.
With the villains changed from Soviets to North Koreans and not much else, this Red Dawn remake includes many of the same resonant scenes that don't tire in multiple re-views of the 1984 movie, especially in terms of the action. Yet in its own way, this remake achieves its own excitement with thunderous sequences (such as during the first moments of the invasion, or the climactic shootout) that would make the original proud. However coddled this movie can be by nostalgia for another movie, director Dan Bradley's film becomes its own patriotic beast.
In an opinion that doesn't feel blasphemous, Chris Hemsworth recalls the same genuineness that Patrick Swayze brought to this character that he made his own. As this Marine unable to escape his war wear because of his acquired skills, a wiser Hemsworth looks aged, and feels even older than that. Hemsworth has the stoicism that Swayze played seriously and effectively, especially in a few monologues that for better or worse came with emotion ("Don't cry! Turn it into something else!" Swayze once ordered).
Playing a role formerly done by Charlie Sheen, Josh Peck is surprisingly solid as an annoying hotshot who hasn't earned his ego. He's certainly got down the cocky kid mannerisms, including the obnoxious licking of lips between every sentence. As much of a d-bag as this character might seem, such does positively reflect the performance of Peck, who keeps this character within control so that we can be frustrated by him as the script requires, but not be entirely turned off to him.
Just as it keeps the spirit of the original film, Red Dawn also carries over the flaws, especially when it provides an overly rushed picture of what's going on, leaving the movies visuals of guerrilla imagery confusing geographically, and yes, a bit logically. There's still no attempt to explain how these guerrilla soldiers can move in and out of the occupied landscape, and the landscape itself is a bit hazy (which is distracting when trying to completely shut off one's brain during action sequences). It's expected that a movie like Red Dawn would conceit to such indifferent vagueness, but nonetheless slightly disappointing that the writing for this concept didn't improve over the span of nearly three decades.
More so than other '80s remakes, this film is one that plays close to the original's script, repeating much of the same scenes or concepts, albeit in a world in which "Call of Duty" is a teen's first acclimation to first-person killing. With this remake, many of the same ups and downs are in place, but the odd, unparalleled, and frankly beautiful nuttiness of Red Dawn has not changed. Even in 2012, this 1984 concept feels urgent, and in its most basic, IMDb comment exclamations, it is a blast. This is not a "reboot" that does a disservice to its original, but inherits the spirit of its proud father like a son would, carrying on the battle against generic armies and dull action stories alike.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10